Book Vs. Film: The Devil Wears Prada

(This was written for our next issue of Femnista, but at the last minute I found a topic I’m more passionate about.)

Most movies are not better than the books on which they are based.

I thought this was the truth until I read The Devil Wears Prada. I almost didn’t see it, since it looked “boring.” But I had nothing else to do the day of its release so I went loved every minute of it. The film was funny, quirky, and had real heart. So, under the assumption “the book is always better,” I read it and to my disappointment, most of the story wasn’t the same. The book didn’t really have an over-reaching plot arc other than me wondering how much more Andy was going to put up with before she called it quits. Where the film’s characters manage to be likable in spite of their behavior, in the book it’s hard to like any of them, since they range from rude to full-blown elitist snob.

Though I am much more a fan of period pieces, Prada is my favorite “modern” film due to its characters. These women dominate the plot and leave us something to think about at the end. None are perfect, all are flawed, some are just plain mean, but their individual journeys make the story impacting.

Our leading lady is Andy, a wannabe writer who gets stuck working for Runway, a fashion magazine. The better she is at her job (after she gives up being frumpy and puts some effort into it), the worse her personal life gets. She starts missing out on important things, like her boyfriend’s birthday. As she inches closer to success, she becomes more like her boss, a woman she hates. Andy goes from a fun-loving girl in a committed relationship to a girl who pulls a one-night stand with a guy in Paris and stabs a colleague in the back to save her job. Fortunately, Andy comes around when Miranda tells her she sees a lot of herself in Andy. Instead of being flattered, she quits, walks away and never looks back.

Andy starts out as one person, becomes someone else, and ends up a blend of the two. For awhile she puts her personal ambition ahead of her many relationships. The moment she decides to get the Harry Potter book for Miranda she starts down a dark path. For awhile, she tries to deny responsibility but in the end comes to see that no one forced her to do anything; she chose to stay. It’s just that what she really wanted (to be successful at her job) is what Miranda asked for from her, so she could pretend it wasn’t her fault. Her job brings out the worst and the best in her; the best in her dedication and focus, the worst in her ambition. Only after seeing the injury Miranda does to Nigel does Andy decide to quit, and at last earns the respect of her tyrannical boss. Miranda was used to sycophants betraying one another at her whim to get ahead. Andy is the only one to say no.

The character of Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway who refuses to share elevators with others and dismisses everyone with a cold “That’s all,” is loosely based on Vogue editor Anna Wintour (whose nickname in fashion circles is “Nuclear Wintour”). In the book, she is a controlling, emotionally abusive, irredeemable figure but the film gives her depth. Ever ready with an insult, Miranda struggles to hang onto a job a younger editor could do less expensively, in a fashion world that would turn on her in an instant, while married to a man who resents her success. Her success as an editor forces her to sacrifice her home life and leads her to a divorce. Her life looks glamorous but is full of emptiness. She is the emblem of what Nigel says is success: when your personal life falls apart. Her selfish behavior is tolerated because she is powerful enough to get away with it, but it also makes no one loyal to her. She is, truly, utterly alone in the world.

Themes that make me think are essential to my enjoyment of any project. The Devil Wears Prada is on the surface a critique of the falsities of fashion and exterior beauty. Though it may look glamorous on the outside, it is teeming with sarcasm, overblown egos, outrageous actions, models starving to be beautiful (as Emily says, “I’m only one stomach flu away from my goal weight!”), workplace backstabbing, and casual sex. It warns that ambition can lead to downfall if you place it ahead of others’ feelings. But the true worth of the story is that its devil is deceptive. Miranda is not cunning about anything; she asks for what she wants, and expects Andy to either get it for her, or to get out.

Christian, on the other hand, is a different story. He is not important in the book but on screen becomes an influencing force in Andy’s life. He is a famous writer, and someone Andy admires. He offers to critique her writing not out of kindness but interest. He intends to get her into bed and does not bother hiding it. In the end, he succeeds, but it takes him awhile of working at her moral conscience. His gift of the manuscript allows her to keep her job but ruins her relationship with her boyfriend in the process. He flirts with her, planting a wedge between her and her best friend. He wines and dines her and gets what he wants because Andy has changed enough from the girl she originally was to give it to him.

What is it they say about the devil? He’s not a dragon breathing fire in the front yard but is coming in the back in a nice suit and a sweet smile. Satan doesn’t confront us with evil, he offers us a small taste of it and lets our rebellious, selfish nature do the rest. Our choices damn us.

Maybe the devil in Prada isn’t Miranda after all. ♥

10 thoughts on “Book Vs. Film: The Devil Wears Prada

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  1. Confessions of a Shopaholic is similar in that way. The film is actually very nicely done, you do feel fond of the protagonist and the trouble she’s got herself into, and by the end you see she’s grown as a person. The book takes the opposite tack – she gets everything she wants despite not having to change or grow one bit, and all the way through she is thoroughly unlikeable and selfish without remorse. Watch the film, but don’t bother with the book.

    1. That’s curious, that Hollywood would go the route of making something have a moral message that the book lacked. I hadn’t realized the book was so dramatically different! I won’t go out of my way to read it, so thanks for the heads’ up!

    2. Personally I loved the books. I don’t think she’s selfish at all, just misguided, a lot of people are in debt, and they fall into the traps that Becky has gotten herself into.

      The Confessions of a Shopaholic books aren’t meant to be philosophical/deep, they’re meant to entertain. Becky makes a lot of excuses that people make about getting into debt and I think that’s why
      so many women connect with the books.

      But yes I agree with you, she does get what she wants. Honestly, its a
      book and most people like happy endings. If you’ve never been in debt then its hard to understand the struggle to not reach for your credit card, it can be so tempting. Your heart and your head struggle for the right thing to do.

      I struggled with credit card debt for the longest time. I guess I am more sympathetic to the character, for those whom have never been in debt, it
      can be a hard thing to understand. It was a struggle to overcome not only the emotional struggle but also the psychological struggle.

      And just like Becky I always had an excuse for being in debt, for spending when I shouldn’t. It took a long time to overcome bad habits, and honestly it took practice over time to become a saver and get out of debt. That’s something the book glosses over.

      There’s this really good book that explains why people do dumb things called, “Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them” by Gary Belsky. It honestly, explains so much about why so many intelligent and talented people make dumb money mistakes.

      1. Overcoming debt can be a hard thing. Even if you have never been in debt but still try and curb your “impulse buys,” it can be really hard! Lately, I’ve been dialing back my spending, not because I have to, but because I’ve realized so much of it is wasteful. Like the character in Shopaholic, you see it, you want it, you buy it. But do you really NEED it?

        I’ll have to look up Belsky’s book. It sounds really interesting! (Have you read Dave Ramsey’s book? He takes an extreme view of money, which includes cutting up your credit cards, but I’m not sure how practical that approach is in a time when credit is everything.)

        1. Yes I even went through his program financial peace university. I did the online version. I like everything about his program except cutting out credit cards. That’s not very realistic in today’s world when you’re in your 20s and you need credit history to get an apartment and to get jobs. That’s the only thing that I didn’t do about his program.

          When you’re young in your 20s and you need a job immediately you kind of need to consent to a credit check. That’s just how the corporate world is. Also certain businesses refuse to even take debit cards, although most of them do take them but I have run into those rare occasions where they don’t.

          What I ended up doing after paying off debt, is that I ended up canceling my credit cards and signed up for a new one with better terms from my bank USAA. So that
          one from USAA is my only credit card these days. Its just nice to have as a backup.

  2. I’ve read the book and seen the move, and while I like them both, I agree with your assessment. Overall, the movie was definitely better. And Meryl Streep did an amazing job.

  3. *gasp*

    You almost didn’t see this one!? Whoa – this is, like, one of the “best” movies EVER, girl! =) Speaking of this film, I really, REALLY need to watch it again. It has been… forever. Fortunately, this movie does have a message to impart.

    Aw! This would have been fun for “Femnista.” Looking forward to what you are writing about. =)

    1. If you have ever seen the trailers, which isn’t much of a trailer at all — just like a minute and a half of the film — you might understand why. =P

      1. Don’t know if I ever saw it or not – probably back when it was new. There are the trailers that tell you nothing, and then… there are the trailers that tell us “too” much.

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